Rather Than Stay Divided by the NRA, How Do We Build Bridges to Reduce Gun Violence?

National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre gestures as he speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Co
National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre gestures as he speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

There he goes again -- NRA chief Wayne LaPierre served up fear mongering rhetoric designed to divide Americans into keeping the status quo rather than building bridges to reduce gun violence in our communities.

Today the NRA mouthpiece served up lines like "a 'violent rapist deserves to face a good woman with a gun' (which continues to put the onus on women for being assaulted rather than on men for raping them) and telling Vice President Joe Biden "you keep the advice we'll keep the guns" (nevermind that the advice from Biden came to Biden via 229 groups from all walks of life representing millions of Americans) and "NRA's 5 million members... will not back down" (even though 74 percent of those members want background checks even if their mouthpiece does not). These NRA antics were exactly the wrong way to bring Americans together -- but the right way for them to keep us divided and maintain the status quo.

What is to be done? Rather than stay divided by the NRA, how do we build bridges to reduce gun violence?

One way is through harnessing the goodwill of people who want change -- including the majority of NRA members -- and the power of technology to leapfrog over politics paid for by multi-million-dollar mouthpieces.

This is exactly what a group of committed activists were up to yesterday in San Francisco as we launched the Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative. I came to the group via a post I wrote here, "Universal Firearms Background Checks? There's Got to Be an App for That," describing the need for universal background checks and the role that tech companies can play in developing a LiveScan-type app and related technology to facilitate universal mobile online background checks. That posting led me to the Tech Committee for Gun Violence Prevention, spearheaded by San Francisco angel investor Ron Conway. On the night of December 14, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly were in the Conway home for an event. Guests were still reeling from the horrific Newtown news. That night Conway committed to making change -- and since then he galvanized thousands to volunteer time, money, and tech savvy to the Sandy Hook Promise cause. I went with my idea to a January 14 meeting and learned that Sandy Hook families were planning an event every month on the 14th until meaningful change is reached.

Which brings us to yesterday -- three months after the massacre, the launch of a new beginning -- The Sandy Hook Innovation Initiative designed a "call for ideas" to reduce gun violence and a commitment by leading venture capitalists and angel investors to fund promising innovations in gun safety, mental health research and related new technologies.

I felt so inspired yesterday as participants at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco Town Hall meeting on reducing gun violence talked about harnessing tech for good -- creating "smart guns," using databases to anticipate crime spots, "brain health" software (more on that in a minute), school safety, and video gaming.

A handful of Sandy Hook parents were there, and they spoke of feeling hopeful for the first time since their children were murdered. Nicole Hockley, who lost her 6-year-old son, Dylan, lived across the street from the gunman who killed her son and his special education aide Anne Marie Murphy, in whose arms Dylan died. Nicole said "I find myself smiling with hope for the first time since December 14th. I wish my husband could be here since he has bee waiting 3 months to see me smile again." She added, "Knowing that Sandy Hook Promise is trying to help others not feel what we feel gets me out of bed, motivates and drives me."

Scientists Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel lost their only child, Avielle Rose, in the Sandy Hook tragedy. They said mental health should be re-branded "brain health," and needs urgent attention. Their Avielle Foundation mission statement is poignant and powerful:

The mission of The Avielle Foundation is to prevent violence by fostering brain health research, education, and policy; and community development, engagement, and responsibility. The foundation will do so by directing resources to support:
1. Breakthrough research in brain health, bridging behavioral and biochemical sciences
2. Community-based initiatives and programs which strengthen connectivity, empathy, and understanding.

"I'm sorry for your loss," I said to Jennifer after we left a social media meeting discussing a plan to remember Sandy Hook mom and all who lost kids to gun violence on Mother's Day. "So am I," she said simply. But, she pushes on for her daughter, building bridges with her strengths and talents on a new life's mission building research and community.

With Jennifer's words in my head I went home to change before the evening reception. My husband Peter had taken our nearly 4-year-old Bella to shop for dinner, but my daughter had left me a card on the table. On the outside above a smiling face she wrote "Mamma" (the first time she's ever written that) and on the inside she drew her own hand (I used to trace her hands on cards before she learned to write - now she draws them freestyle). At that moment the enormity of loss hit me -- those parents will not go home to handmade cards by fledgling artists. When I told that story to some guests at the reception, a young woman from Facebook said "I called my mom on the break, just to talk." How lucky we were to have those relationships -- and how inspired we are to keep working to reduce the scourge of violence.

To that end we are starting a local arts contest in San Francisco, with a working theme of Building Bridges to Reduce Gun Violence. We'll harness a team, develop meme, and hope to install a photo exhibit with storytelling by those whose lives were tragically altered by gun violence. With our first community partner, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, we'll be reaching out to open up this conversation and gather testimonials. The power of personal storytelling is of course as old as faith itself -- the individual who speaks her truth and bears witness to the agony of violence and the redemption of hope.

Like most people, I recoil at the extremist statements coming from the NRA. But I refuse to stay divided. If the murders in Sandy Hook and San Francisco do not motivate us to make change, we are perpetuating the status quo rather than forcing a new conversation about the root causes of gun violence for which the weapons are merely the enablers. Technology democratizes our discussion, so I'm using it as my bridge to reducing gun violence. What's yours?